Auditory distraction does more than disrupt rehearsal processes in children’s serial recall

  • Angela M. AuBuchonEmail author
  • Corey I. McGill
  • Emily M. Elliott


As children mature, their ability to remember information improves. This improvement has been linked to changes in verbal control processes such as rehearsal. Rehearsal processes are thought to undergo a quantitative shift around 7 years of age; however, direct measurement of rehearsal is difficult. We investigated a measure of rehearsal ability in children and compared this measurement to serial recall performance in the presence of auditory distractors. Theories of auditory distraction effects in children rely upon a combination of attentionally based and serial-order-based processes (Elliott et al. in Journal of Memory and Language, 88, 39–50, 2016); the present work contributes to the understanding of auditory distraction effects by measuring both types of processes within one study. Children completed an individually adjusted serial-recall task with auditory distractors. To assess rehearsal, each child’s proportionalized articulatory difference (PAD) score was calculated from performance on adaptive digit span tasks performed in quiet and under articulatory suppression (see also Jarrold & Citroën in Developmental Psychology, 49, 837–847, 2013). Attentional processes were measured in two ways: first, by using complex span tasks, and second, by children’s vulnerability to disruption in the context of irrelevant sound. The results indicated that the rehearsal measure was significantly related to the auditory distraction effect, but this relation was isolated to the attentional-diversion component of the irrelevant-sound effect. The results provide preliminary evidence that children consume attentional resources during rehearsal. Moreover, irrelevant sound disrupts children’s rehearsal not solely through automatic, obligatory conflict. Rather, irrelevant sound diverts children’s attention, which prevents attentional resources from supporting rehearsal processes.


Rehearsal Auditory distractions Serial-order recall Attention Children 


Author note

Data and analysis code from this study can be found at and, respectively. Participant recruitment was partially supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number P30DC004662. The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose. The authors thank the participants for their time, and Grace Meissner for assisting with data collection.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angela M. AuBuchon
    • 1
    Email author
  • Corey I. McGill
    • 2
  • Emily M. Elliott
    • 2
  1. 1.Boys Town National Research HospitalOmahaUSA
  2. 2.Louisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

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